No,   American is NOT #1…But It Can Be #10 

By Shlomo Maital 

  

   A recent podcast by Harvard Business School Prof. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, offers wise advice to America, on how to restore its vital innovation ecosystem.  A newsmagazine recently splashed on its cover: America Is Still #1.  It is far easier for Americans to wallow in self-delusion than to make the painful difficult changes it needs.  American is NOT #1.  With effort, it CAN be #10.  I wish America would listen to the veteran expert Prof. Kanter than the sages of Newsweek. Here are Kanter’s key points, structured to debunk some myths.

    America did not invent the things that made it strong, but its entrepreneurial spirit rapidly leveraged them.  “There are many production processes, for example, textile mills and the steam engine and lots of other things, that were invented in other countries. But it was that entrepreneurial spirit in the US that made those things into big industries. And it’s been the US investment in universal public K-12 education– well, actually, 1-12 in some places– investing in human capital and then being enriched by people who would come in search of opportunity from other countries who, because they would leave their home base, were a little more entrepreneurial. And therefore, they were risk takers, and that’s how you get innovation.”

    America’s system of K-12 education was once the envy of the world. No longer.  America needs to rebuild and reconnect its educational system with the needs of industry. “…our system of higher education, which grew on the base of having all those people who could get universal high school education, our base of higher education is the envy of the world. This draws talent, but it also produces ideas. And those ideas become the foundation for enterprises. So this is our strength. This is where we have to invest. This is what will revive American progress.”

     Big American firms must help small and medium-size ones. “…(we should connect) small and new enterprises to large companies. Why would something like that actually result in more innovation?   Well, it would result in more innovation. It would also result just in more growth and more jobs, because what has happened since the economy started to globalize is that many of the large companies in the US that work overseas– multinational companies– they have become more efficient, in part, by consolidating their supply chains, looking for more and more goods and services from other parts of the world. And that has squeezed out many small, local suppliers, some of which may be content to be small businesses, but some of which are growth engines for the future. So since small companies are the ones we depend on for growth, for new ideas, we need to find a way to mentor them, get their best ideas. And they also are sort of innovation, by the way, because they’re tinkering at the fringes of new technology.”

     Great basic research is NOT solely done at MIT or Stanford.  “I love the new research collaborations that are springing up between universities, businesses, small businesses, public funds.  So in Albany, New York, for example– this is a little esoteric for many people– but the State University of New York at Albany had one of the country’s first schools of nanoscience. And this is a very important science for semiconductors, which is a very important component of all of our devices, computers, and anything else that runs digitally. So they are the world’s leading researchers.” 

    Innovation must take place in education, not just in business.  “ If we wanted incredible school reform around the needs of employers, to do that nationally, you pass a law, you provide mandates, you provide some funding. But meanwhile, you need demonstrations. And those demonstrations go region by region, like the new six-year high school in New York City, which is now going to grow in New York and be copied in Chicago, which is a new form of schooling.   It means kids in ninth grade are essentially entering community college. And after six years, they graduate with a high school degree and an associates degree. And they get a job interview, because their work has been so targeted to the skills that are needed.”

   What are the chances Prof. Kanter’s voice will be heard?  According to NYT columnist Tom Friedman, very little. He quotes historian Francis Fukuyama, who says America is not a ‘democracy’ but a ‘vetocracy’, where interest groups veto any law they dislike.   And America is not alone.  Worldwide, a leadership vacuum exists, with no-one willing to propose tough measures, like those of Rosabeth Kanter, that cause pain and possibly electoral defeat. 

Advertisements